Feb 052016
 

هناك حالة كبيرة من التذمر العربي من إيران، وخصوصا في الخليج العربي، وهو تذمر تختلط فيه معطيات السياسة والمصالح الجيوستراتيجيّة مع الاعتبارات المذهبية والطائفية، ففي الغالب يُنظر إلى إيران باعتبارها دولة شيعية معنية بنشر المذهب الشيعي في مختلف أرجاء العالم أولًا وقبل وكل شيء. ورغم أنه لا يمكن إنكار هذا البعد في السياسة الإيرانية، إلا أن ثمة جملةً من الحقائق المغيبة في هذه القراءة الاختزالية التي تنظر إلى إيران من الزاوية الدينية فحسب وتتجاهل أبعادًا أخرى ينبغي الانتباه إليها.

تظل إيران بدرجة أولى دولة قومية تبحث عن تعزيز مصالحها ونفوذها، وهي إحدى الكيانات الإقليمية المؤثرة في منطقة الشرق الأوسط، ولذلك فهي معنية بتعظيم مكانتها الإقليمية مستخدمة البعد المذهبي أو الطائفي باعتباره جزءًا من السياسة القومية الإيرانية.

صحيح أن إيران الخميني وفي ظل اندفاعاتها الثورية الأولى، قد غلب عليها بعد الأممية الإسلامية في البداية قبل أن يطغى البعد الشيعي الطائفي بصورة فاقعة فيما بعد، إلا أن منطق الدولة القومية يظل هو المحركَ الرئيسيَّ للسلوك السياسي الإيراني.

لقد أغرى الضعف العربي وتراجع النفوذ الأميريكي في المنطقة بعد احتلال العراق ثم حالة الانسحاب الفوضوي فيما بعد، أغرى إيران بمزيد من التمدد وتعزيز نفوذها في منطقة رخوة ومليئة بالتناقضات، مستغلة المكونات الشيعية كقاعدة أمامية لتوسيع نفوذها.

التقطت إيران الفرصة التي وفرتها الحرب على العراق ثم إخفاقات الأميركان، ومن ثم انسحابهم العسكري لتتمدد في الفراغات الحاصلة من خلال زرع رجالاتها المرتبطين بها، وإحلال حكم طائفي شيعي يدين لها بالولاء، مع العمل على تغيير الخارطة الديمغرافية العراقية.

هكذا، حولت طهران بغداد العاصمة العراقية إلى مدينة شبه شيعية تقريبا مستغلة خطاب المظلومية الشيعية في حقبة صدام حسين لتمارس مظلومية أشد وأنكى ضد المكونات الاجتماعية العراقية الأخرى، خصوصا في عهد المالكي الذي أُصطبغ بصبغة شيعية طائفية فجة لم يعرف العراق لها مثيلا على امتداد تاريخه.

كما سعت إيران إلى نشر المذهب الشيعي في مناطق مختلفة من المجال الاسلامي السني وربط المجموعات الشيعية الناشئة بها واستخدامها أذرعًا أمامية لتقوية حضورها.

عملت إيران بعد ثورات الربيع العربي التي اجتاحت المنطقة عام 2011 من تونس ومنها إلى مصر وليبيا على ركوب هذه الموجة واصفة إياها بالثورات الإسلامية الشاهدة على صحة خط الثورة الإيرانية ضد نظام الشاه.

بيد أن انتقال مسار التغيير هذا إلى الحليف السوري قد أربك السياسة الإيرانية فانقلب الخطاب للحديث عن مؤامرة أميركية إسرائيلية ونزلت طهران بثقلها العسكري والسياسي لدعم بشار الأسد ثم إرسال الأذرع الشيعية في لبنان والعراق وأفغانستان وغيرها لتقاتل إلى جانب النظام السوري.

ومع دخول الروس على الخط حدث التقاء وتحالف إيراني روسي في سوريا وغيرها من المواقع الأخرى. كما عملت إيران على إعادة التموقع في الساحة اليمنية وعلى أبواب الخليج عن طريق جماعة الحوثي التي تدين لها بالولاء السياسي والديني.

في مقابل هذا الاندفاع السياسي والعسكري الإيراني المبني على تصميم ورؤية في الدفاع عن المصالح القومية وتعزيزها من خلال استخدام الجماعات الشيعية ونسج تحالفات إقليمية ودولية قوية، تشهد الساحة العربية السنية حالة من الفراغ السياسي المريع نتيجة انسحاب الكيانات العربية الوازنة، ثم حالة الانقسام العربي وغياب الرؤية المشتركة.

يتذمر العرب من التمدد الإيراني في المنطقة وهم يتخبطون بين الصراعات والانقلابات، مشتتين بلا قيادة ولا وجهة. من تبقى ليلم شعث العرب ويقودهم؟

مصر السيسي مشغولة عن القيادة بحربها الضروس ضد أكبر تيار سياسي بداخلها.
العراق غارق في حرب طائفية مستمرة منذ الغزو الأمريكي.
سوريا مستنزفة في حرب أهلية تخفي صراعات إقليمية ودولية أكبر.
أما دول المغرب العربي فتنحصر مشاغلها في المجال المغاربي الاوروبي بدرجة أولى.
ربما كان الاستثناء الوحيد هو السعودية بثقلها الديني والاقتصادي الذي يسمح لها بتوجيه القاطرة العربية إذا ما توفرت لديها البوصلة السليمة وإرادة تجميع الجسم العربي ورأب صدوعه.

فيما يتخبط العرب في سلسلة من الصراعات والتناقضات الداخلية، تمضي إيران جاهدة لاعادة تشكيل المشهد الإقليمي بما يخدم مصالحها الخاصة، تُسخّر كل امكانياتها السياسية والاقتصادية ورصيدها المذهبي لخدمة أهدافها لتتحول الى قوة إقليمية فاعلة رغم الحصار الذي ضربه ضدها الأميركان منذ بداية ثورتها.

في الأثناء، تملأ دول عربية عدة الأجواء ضجيجًا حول الخطر الإيراني الضارب والمد الشيعي الداهم، وهي التي لم تدخر جهًدا في السعى لإجهاض محاولات العرب للتحرر والنهوض، وسخّرت جلّ طاقتها لتمزيق الجسم العربي السنّي في معارك عبثية ضدّ تياراته السياسية الكبرى، فمضت تبث الفوضى هنا وتؤجج الصراعات الداخلية والفتن والحروب الأهلية وتدعم الانقلابات العسكرية هناك.

في حين تُلقي إيران بكامل ثقلها السياسي والعسكري والمالي والإعلامي لدعم حلفائها من المجموعات الشيعية العقائدية في نقاط مختلفة من العالم، تنخرط هذه الدول العربية في ضرب المكونات الإسلامية السنية التي تمثل عنصر التوازن الرئيسي مع الإسلام الشيعي في المنطقة، بل وصل غيّها حد تأليب الدول الغربية للتضييق على المنظمات والجمعيات والهيئات العربية الإسلامية المعتدلة وحظرها وملاحقة قياداتها وناشطيها بدل دعمها لخدمة مصالح العرب والدفاع عن قضاياهم.

كفانا بكائياتٍ لا جدوى منها. المشكلة الرئيسية عربية قبل أن تكون إيرانية. الكل يتجند للدفاع عن مصالحه بتصميم وإرادة ورؤية: الأتراك والإيرانيون وحتى الأكراد، كل أمم منطقتنا ما عدا العرب، بقوا تائهين يمضون على غير هدًى، يُخربون بيوتهم بأيديهم وأيدي غيرهم، ولا يجيدون غيرَ الصّراخ والعويل!

Oct 272015
 

Egypt’s January Revolution collapsed for many reasons. Some are to do with the structure of power and role of the military in political life. Others with mistakes committed by the new forces in the management of crises in the post revolution phase, failing to rise above ideological differences and forge strong alliances to curb the army’s dominance and limit its influence. While the pro-revolution camp spent its energy in internecine feuding and blame slinging, the counter-revolutionary machine, oiled with the Gulf monarchies’ petrodollars, set about making ordinary Egyptians’ lives a misery. Through manufactured chaos, manipulations of fuel and food prices, obstructions of government by the old bureaucracy in the judiciary, administration and intelligence services and a media wedded to SCAF and the old oligarchs, Egyptians were convinced their country was teetering on the verge of destruction.

Salvation came in the person of General Sisi. In one of history’s darkest ironies, facts were reversed and terms stripped of meaning. With the usurpation of power, symbols were also usurped, as Tahrir Square, emblem of popular revolt against authoritarianism, was turned into a gigantic open air theatre where the old regime was euphorically greeted back. The brutal military coup was a “corrective movement” and the counter-revolution was dubbed the “glorious June 30th revolution,” nothing less. The coup staged against a democratically elected president, freely chosen by a majority of the people, was in defence of democracy and an embodiment of the people’s will.

From the outset, Sisi was cast as a selfless defence minister nobly rising to the call of duty for his nation’s sake. He was a servant of the people, altruistically bowing to the popular will. His legitimacy rested on a direct mandate from the people, who yearned for salvation, order and stability. His was a “historic responsibility” he declared. “We will build an Egyptian society that is strong and stable, that will not exclude any one of its sons.”

Two years after this televised address, Egypt looks nothing like this promised heaven of stability and cohesiveness. Scores of Egyptians have been murdered by an ever more rampant police, sentenced to death in kangaroo courts, or jailed in the most inhumane conditions where torture is routine. Dissent is not tolerated, with the media and the press reduced to the role of state propagandists singing the General’s praises and parroting his words.

Neither was Sisi’s tyrannical rule able to yield stability, with an insurgency in Sinai, attacks in the capital itself, sustained civil conflict and martial law. Sisi’s security credentials have been as abysmal as his democratic record.

Is it any wonder then, that voting stations have been deserted over the last two days of Egypt’s parliamentary polls?

In what observers have described as “elections without voters,” turnout has been as low as 3% in some polling stations. In a movement of mass silent opposition, people defied a state propaganda which ranged from passionate entreaties and fervent appeals to patriotic sentiments and religious faith, to veiled and open threats to abstainers of fines and denunciations for treason. Egyptians have simply refused to be part of the farce designed to drape Sisi in a democratic cloak he still desperately needs to rub away the stain of his blood-drenched military coup.

While the new forces that suddenly rose to power in the revolution’s aftermath, without forging common alliances, proved incapable of surmounting the mighty obstacles on the way, the counter-revolution spearheaded by the military is in crisis today too. In spite of all the repression and persecution, the old guard have been unable to mould the Egyptian landscape as they see fit or dictate the course of events. Protest to their rule is ongoing and expanding, taking on open and silent forms. From defiant weekly demonstrations in different parts of the country, to voters staying in and resolutely abstaining from polling en masse.

Sooner or later, Sisi will no doubt come to realize that his magical recipe of oppression and mass anaesthesia through media and religious propaganda will not transform him into a present-day Nasser. For beyond his self-aggrandising illusions, the truth is that he is neither a hero nor a national saviour, but a reckless military adventurer and the leader of a counterrevolution that may last for a few years, but will eventually wither away.

 

Oct 272015
 

 

ID-10052432

 

Sunni Islam is in turmoil. Over the last two decades, it has been in the grip of ferment and fragmentation unprecedented in its long history. After the wave of radicalisation that had swept across Shiism following the Iranian revolution of 1979, it was the turn of Sunni Islam, which represents around 80% of Muslims worldwide, to seize the spotlight and move centre- stage, with the relentless rise of radical violent movements of the likes of al-Qaeda and ISIS.

The roots of Sunni Islam’s ailments it must be noted are not entirely to do with religion, as most journalists, politicians and “experts” in Europe and across the Atlantic never tire of repeating. Rather than scripture and theology, it is in politics and economics, in power balances, foreign interventions and the scramble for influence and resources that the causes of its ills reside. Religious faith, sect and ethnic affiliations are spontaneously recalled, or wilfully exploited within the conflicts raging around the Muslim world, but are in reality neither their primary cause nor the sole key to their resolution.

Still, there is a real concrete problem characterizing majority Sunni Islam: the profusion of religious and political voices pronouncing in its name, in disorderly, conflicting and confusing ways — a phenomenon from which Shia Islam has been largely immune thanks to the power conferred upon the clergy within the sect.

Sunni Islam has for centuries established itself as representing the majority’s beliefs, or the Muslim ummah‘s faith, rather than being a mere sect, in contrast with the various other components of the Muslim landscape, which assumed the character of dissidents seceding from the mainstream. This gave Sunni Islam a sense of self-confidence and the ability to identify with the wider ummah and act as is its voice, while other creeds remained limited expressions of angry dissident factions, even where they happened to seize power as with the Fatimid Shias who ruled Tunisia and Egypt between 909 and 1171 AD.

Theologically and historically, Sunni Islam has been largely egalitarian, in that it has denied anyone the right to monopolize the religious text, instituting a direct relationship between believers and scripture, free of any hierarchy. This created wide scope for flexibility and pluralism in the interpretation of the text, leading to the emergence of myriad intellectual and juristic Sunni schools.

Shiism on the other hand, underwent a sort of catholicism through restricting the process of scriptural interpretation to the infallible imams, and their successors, the clergy who provide the sects’ adherents with requisite religious exegeses and are devoutly followed by them.

The problem of absence of a religious axis of gravity or guiding centre was resolved within Sunnism by establishing the authority of scholars (ulama) as the chief bearers of the legitimacy to interpret the religious text, while acknowledging the right to intellectual pluralism within the framework of “ijtihad” or free interpretation.

But Sunni Islam has undergone a brutal change over the last two centuries. The process of modernization in the Muslim world has been associated with the growing role of the state and its bureaucracy as the chief, then eventually, sole actor and controller of the fates of Muslim societies. This phenomenon coincided with the fragmentation of the authority of scholars and the erosion of traditional learning institutions, which had been responsible for furnishing Muslim societies with meaning, values and symbols and maintaining their general equilibrium. This generated a vacuum filled with confusion and chaos, as amateurs and impostors came to intrude into the sphere hitherto occupied by qualified jurists and scholars.

The fates of Sunni religious establishments ranged between total obliteration, as was the case in Turkey, Tunisia, Iraq, and Syria, and marginalisation and annexation as happened in Egypt, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Egypt’s al-Azhar turned into an arm of the state’s, used by successive rulers to bestow legitimacy on their power and political edicts. Tunisia’s al-Zaytouna, established in 737 AD, was closed down in the 1960s, then turned into a mere marginal branch of the post-independence Tunisian university.

Amidst the vacuum, disorder, and erosion of the religious educational system, many intruders were able to penetrate into the deserted territory and claim the authority of pronouncing in the name of Islam and acting as the guardians of its adherents. Ben Laden was an engineer while al-Zawahiri was doctor, both educated and trained in modern/ post-colonial establishments.

Indeed, contrary to the dominant narrative that associates terrorism with religious education, it is rare to find a terrorist who had received solid instruction in a Sunni religious educational institution, even those that have lost their lustre. In fact, it is graduates from those schools and universities that are acting as powerful antidotes to extremist groups and the version of Islam they espouse.

No doubt, we cannot turn the clock back. The modernization process is a firm reality in the Muslim world. Furthermore, the intellectual, or modern intelligentsia is now a factor of Muslim society. It has taken on aspects of the role traditionally played by the scholar. The challenge for Muslims today is to restore and revive Sunni Islam’s enormous religious and scholarly heritage within a modern context, thus creating an amalgam of the profound and rich Islamic sciences and modern methods and disciplines.

In order to absorb the great tensions seething deep within Sunni Islam’s guts and recover its equilibrium it is crucial to redeem the status and function of the traditional scholar not as the sole player on the arena or as the conscience of Sunni Islam, but as an intellectual authority of great moral influence and presence across Muslim society. The key to this restorative process lies in the revival of the old educational Sunni establishments, taking into account the spirit of modernity and demands of the times, while preserving their autonomy and independence from the powers that be, thus imparting moral authority to their views and interpretations in the eyes of Muslims around the world.

Only then can we resurrect the traditions of openness and dialogue that had characterized those institutions and safeguard the Muslim body from the extreme tendencies of violent terrorist groups. Take Morocco, for instance. Thanks to its active and influential religious institutions, foremost al-Qarawiyyin and Husseiniyya, it was able to weaken radical currents and deny them religious legitimacy. This stands in sharp contrast with the experiences of its neighbours in Algeria and Tunisia, where the dearth of local religious scholars has left society, mainly the younger generations, prey to the influence of extreme ideas and ill-equipped to challenge and isolate their proponents.

Reviving the authority of traditional learning institutions couldn’t on its own act as a magical cure to the maladies of radicalism and terrorism. These feed on the political conflicts raging in the region. But it would no doubt help restore the stability of Muslim societies in a closely interconnected world, where crises can no longer be left to rage far away and inevitably spread closer home. To that the waves of wretched refugees crossing into Europe’s shores to flee the Syrian abyss is a clear testimony.

Image courtesy of Winnond, Free Digital Photos

Oct 272015
 

ID-10051186With over 1.6 billion followers, one third of them living as minorities, Islam is a major force in the world today. An active factor in international relations, its influence is far from local or confined to countries and communities classified as “Muslim.” With the presence of Muslims in Western capitals and the rapid diffusion of mass-communication media, Islam has become a globalized subject, albeit one largely viewed through the prism of security and intelligence. Amidst the rise of al-Qaeda, ISIS and other terrorist groups, it has become increasingly perceived in Europe and the U.S. as a generator of crises and a threat to global stability and security.

In spite of the deluge of images and narratives of Islam that has flooded the public space since September 11th, knowledge and understanding of the subject has remained limited. Few know the enormous diversity of the Muslim world and its societies, on the levels of schools of thought, religious interpretations, or sectarian pluralism. Fewer still realize that there exists no uniform Islam but divergent tendencies fostered and promoted by the general political climates where different Muslim communities happen to find themselves.

It is such conditions that define the form of Islam that gains prevalence in a given historical context. Like any other major religion, Islam has been in its past, and continues to be in the present, subject to multiple strategies of interpretation. In general terms, we can speak of three prominent trends competing over the hearts and minds of Muslims around the world today.

The first is theocratic, at the service of absolutist rulers for whom Islam is a means of acquiring a de facto authority wrested by the force of the sword and hereditary succession, above any checks and restraints, and free of any accountability. This Islam is armed with its network of institutions, funds, and functionaries. The essence of religion as an authentic spiritual experience is irrelevant here. What matters are the rituals and outward forms of religiosity as the source of power legitimation. Religion is a mere obedient and obliging servant of the ruler, his interests and whims. In the Arabian Peninsula, a Wahhabism wedded to rule by the sword represents the clearest embodiment of this form of Islam.

Its proponents are as eager to exhibit the ritualist and formalistic aspects of Islam in a crudely interventionist way, such as the imposition of prayer, the segregation of men and women and enforcement of the niqab, as they are to keep it remote from politics and the realms of power and authority. As soon as these taboos are touched, the religious establishment, with its guardians of the sacred army comprising official scholars, clergymen and preachers, springs into action, denouncing the culprits as deviant and unorthodox, thereby furnishing the religious cover for their silencing, oppression and elimination.

The second strategy is as morally absolutist, dogmatic, legalistic and exclusionary as the first but espouses a different type of politics. It is an anarchist form of Wahhabism. It feeds on the climates of crisis, wars and conflicts raging in Muslim lands and seeks a source of justification for the perpetration of violence and terror in the theology of Islam.

This minority current had been isolated in Khandahar and the distant mountains of Tora Bora. But the military invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and widening circle of political, sectarian and ethnic conflicts has strengthened it and enabled it to resonate with growing sectors of angry, anxious and disillusioned Muslim youth. The Arab awakening, which gave people in the region hope of the possibility of peaceful political change, had dealt a powerful blow to this tendency.

But as its great aspirations were crushed under the boots of generals in Egypt, burnt in the furnace of civil wars in Libya and drowned in the bloodshed of Syria, this violent anarchist current gained fresh momentum and rose to the forefront once more. For all its noise and the enormous exposure it receives, however, it still fails to command religious legitimacy or acceptance in the eyes of most Muslims, who still dismiss it as religiously deviant and politically counterproductive, damaging to the image of Islam and the stability of Muslim societies.

The presence of such extremist groups and the extent of their influence depend to a large extent on the general political climates prevailing in the Muslim world. Unfortunately, these conditions, particularly those reigning in the Arab hemisphere, show no sign of rehabilitation or stabilization.

These two trends are at loggerheads with democratic modernist Islam, whose roots lie in the 19th-century Islamic reform movement founded by Jamaluddin al-Afghani and Mohamed Abdu, which revolves around the notion of compatibility between, on the one hand, Islamic spiritual and religious values and, on the other, what it describes as the “requisites” of modern times. These include the imposition of checks and balances on power, the adoption of democratic mechanisms and procedures, and the emancipation of Islam from what proponents of this reformist school describe as the “prison of stagnation and imitation.”

With the advent of modernization, urbanization and mass education, this current has amassed considerable influence in Muslim societies (and later among Muslim minorities). Today, it is under pressure from multiple quarters. One of these is the theocratic camp, which considers the very presence of an Islam that calls for restrictions on the authority of rulers and respect for the will of the people, expressed through electoral democracy, a direct threat to its existence. This explains the unrelenting war waged by certain Gulf states on the wave of democratic change in the Arab region for the last three years.

Alongside pressures from Arab theocracies, democratic Islam is challenged by Salafi jihadists who dismiss it as “diluted,” “soft” and “naive,” pinning its hopes on peaceful protests and ballot boxes, which, unlike armed warfare, lead nowhere.

And beyond the Muslim landscape, this brand of Islam is viewed with mistrust by many in American decision-making circles and across the Atlantic. In the name of realism and pragmatism, these prefer to deal with rulers who, though authoritarian and ruthless with their masses, are pliant and willing to leave their markets wide open for Euro-American goods and squander billions in their nations’ resources on weapons no one else would buy. These are, therefore, infinitely preferable to elected leaders bound by the will of their people and committed to their interests.

Those who call for the reformation and democratization of Islam seem to miss an essential fact: that a democratic reformist Islam has existed since the 19th century. It has its own literal body, pioneers, and thinkers, within both Shia and Sunni Islam. The question is: Does the situation of present-day Muslim society, marked by crisis, tensions, foreign interventions and political despotism, foster this reformist democratic Islam, or does it promote its violent and theocratic rivals?

Rather than sifting through Muslims’ religious texts, theological tracts and medieval polemical disputes, those agonizing over the “problem” of Islam would do well to ponder the concrete reality of real, living Muslims and seek to fix it rather than striving to fix Islam.

(photo courtesy of  Nutdanai Apokhomboonwaroot, Free Digital Photos)

 

Oct 272015
 

As soon as the Tunisian elections results were announced with Nidaa Tounes overtaking Ennahdha party, celebrations of the “Islamists'” defeat at the hands of the “secularists” got underway across the media in France and many other western capitals. The historical context of a country in the aftermath of a revolution, its socio-political circumstances and complex regional conditions was banished from the narrative. Between cliches of bad “Islamists” “defeated” by good “secularists” and jubilant resurrections of old prophesies of the “failure of political Islam,” the contest was portrayed as a battle of ideologies and world views.

Such faulty conclusions derive from false premises: from the tendency to view political parties and movements with an Islamic reference frame as metaphysical ahistorical entities outside the laws of socio-politics. Their decisions and conduct are only explainable by reference to theology and ideology. Their religious references are seen as the key to their successes in societies viewed through the prism of culture mostly, while their religious discourse is thought to grant them immunity from defeat and diminution. Islamist parties’ electoral setbacks thus stand little chance of being objectively discussed, as one would expect of those of the Democrats in the U.S. or Labour in the UK.

The truth, however, is that Islamists are political actors no different from other parties and political organizations, prone to ascent and descent, success and failure, and subject to the influences of the national political climates where they operate. Those working in open democratic environments differ from those moving within climates of oppression and despotism. The nature of the wider social milieu shapes these actors and defines their political and intellectual outlooks.

Yemen’s Islamists, who function in a tribal framework, or those in Lebanon and Iraq operating in a sectarian context significantly differ from those working in the more culturally and politically open societies of Tunisia or Morocco. In fact, the conditions of the same political actor may vary significantly with changes to its political sphere, which has been the case with Ennahdha party, for instance, which was transformed from a politically radical opposition party under the Ben Ali regime into a ruling party as a result of the rapid developments ushered in by the Tunisian revolution.

The terminological baggage used to refer to such parties and movements is, it must be said, part of the problem. It is overly broad, ambiguous and loaded with negative connotations. It designates actors at opposite ends of the Islamic spectrum with visions of Islam and politics that are at loggerheads, from the violent anarchists of Isis and al-Qaeda and the quietist Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia, who subscribe to a puritanical reading of Islam and firmly reject democracy and its procedures as non-Islamic, to those like Ennahdha and Justice and Development party, who seek to legitimize it within an Islamic reference frame, adopting it as their political methodology, and seeing no contradiction between their faith and human rights, public liberties or individual freedoms. When referring such political parties, it may be more accurate to speak of “democratic political Islam.”

Islamic political movements are byproducts of two interconnected projects. The first, is modernization in the region, with all its tensions, successes, failures and consequences, foremost among which urbanization and mass education. They are both a result of and a response to the modernization process. Contrary to common wisdom, Islamist parties tend to do better in modernized societies, such as those of Turkey and Tunisia, than they fare in more traditional ones like Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.

The second is the nation state. Islamic political parties are crucially influenced by their local environments and shaped by them. Their concerns and priorities remain largely national even if they speak of the notion of the “ummah,” which is in reality a matter of moral and emotional solidarity, nothing more.

We must strip the phenomena of “political Islam” of the mystical aura shrouding them, which results from a tendency to equate them with “fundamentalism”: a mass of angry irrational impulses wholly motivated by religious aspirations and incentives, and instead situate them within the conditions of their time and space. Only through historical socio political context can we hope to cure researchers, journalists and observers of the malady of oversimplification, generalization and reductionism that currently deforms the bulk of analyses of the subject.

Ennahdha party’s electoral successes and failures — past, present, or future — must be stripped of religious and moral considerations and viewed as perfectly normal phenomena in a democratic system where political forces naturally oscillate between ascent and descent. And though the claim that the ‘religious’ have been vanquished by the ‘secularists’ may strongly appeal to many, I fear it does not stand up to accurate objective scrutiny.

What happened in Tunisia has in reality nothing to do with ideology, religion, or secularism and everything to do with local political power balances and surrounding geopolitical conditions. Tunisian voters have clearly opted for two main political parties, which reflects the reality of polarization between these two entities in the country. The relative advance of Nidaa Tounes (38 percent to 31 percent) illustrates that a relative shift in favor of old regime forces has occurred. They have remobilized, recycled themselves and renovated their discourse and some of their faces at the expense of the new forces brought forward by the revolution.

This points to the reality of the ‘Arab Spring’ decline and to the impact of the geopolitical environment over Tunisia and the forces of change in the wider region. Ennahdha rose to power on the wave of change that had swept across the Arab world and is now retreating with the old forces’ return amidst the resurrection of climates of military coups in the region. Small Tunisia and Ennahdha movement could not break this general trend, even if they managed — with great difficulty — to restrain it with the survival of the country’s nascent democratic experiment.

Developments in Tunisia reflect a general rule that applies to those who shoulder the burdens of government in the aftermath of revolution, with all its pressures, challenges, even dangers. Standing on the frontline in post-revolution times comes at a price. It entails a drop in popularity, as revolutions necessarily ignite mass fervor and raise the threshold of expectations to a level hard to meet in normal circumstances, and impossible in the strenuous tumultuous conditions of post revolutions.

This fact is vividly illustrated by the electoral performance of the two secular parties that had entered into an alliance with Ennahdha following the October 2011 elections and had shared the burdens of power with it. Their losses have been bitterly heavy, with the Congress for the Republic dropping from 29 to four seats only, while the Forum for Labour and Liberties, whose chairman had served as the Constituent Assembly leader for the last three years, lost all its seats and was ejected altogether from the new parliament.

Other crucial factors to bear in mind include the challenges and dangers posed to the Tunisian experiment from its direct and indirect geographic environment, from Libya and Southern Sahara, with increasing terror threats due to arms proliferation in Libya and a widening of the circle of anarchy, conflicts and wars in the Arab hemisphere. Equally significant have been the the country’s economic difficulties due to political unrest and climates of instability. Such ordeals were aggravated by the economic crisis that has engulfed the economies of Europe to which Tunisia’s economy has been inextricably tied since its independence in 1956.

The Tunisian election results will no doubt have a palpable effect on Ennahdha party, forcing it towards greater accommodation to its local environment, as well as renovation and reform within a more open democratic context. What is crucial for those with an interest in the subject, however, is to begin to view this party, just like other political Islamic actors, as socio-political phenomena prone to advance and decline, rather than entities outside history.

They must free themselves of their mystical outlook and of culturally essentialist interpretations of political parties with an Islamic background. In open democratic settings, these are likely to move closer towards the model of Christian democratic parties in Europe. Ennahdha party of Tunisia may, in fact, serve as a laboratory for the possible evolution of political Islam in this direction. The question is: when will “Western” journalists and experts rid themselves of their ideological biases and start to see reality as it is, with all its complexities, shades and nuances ?

 

Oct 102014
 

Pro-Morsi Protesters Clash With Security Forces

 

A collective sigh of relief was almost audible across Washington and other western capitals when Sisi accomplished the mission and successfully staged his blood-drenched military coup. They could all go back to business as usual with the Arabs. No need for the newly devised strategy of containment. No need to sing the praises of freedom, or pay lip service to the emancipation of nations or the popular will. Sisi’s US furnished tanks and the Gulf Sheikhdoms’ petrodollars took care of tarnishing and demolishing the unwelcome Arab Spring. Time to rewind to pre-January 2011 and reconnect with old friends and companions! They have been sorely missed indeed!

Ditch the new rhetoric of ‘change’, ‘transition’, democratisation’, ‘the popular will’ and ‘mutual respect” and pull the worn out familiar dictionary in constant use since World War II out of the drawer. It’s now back to “Stability”, “security”, “our interests” and all the other euphemisms for forced political stagnation, active obstruction of change, and the coercively imposed status quo.

 Voices which had been muted since the toppling of dictators in Egypt and Tunisia are reverberating once more. One of them is Denis Ross’s, who recently wrote in the New York Times openly urging the administration to go back to supporting its “friends and partners” in the region. Lest there should be confusion over who these may be, Ross does not hesitate in his article entitled “Islamists are not our friends” to define them in explicit terms. They are “the traditional monarchies, authoritarian governments, and secular reformers who may be small in number but have not disappeared”. They offer the only glimmer of light in an otherwise dark Arab ocean. They populate the tiny island that should serve as America’s sole gateway to the region and unique foothold therein. Forget the one and half billion Muslims around the globe, “our” interests lie exclusively with these chosen few and the policies “we” pursue should wholly depend on them.

Everyone else is banished into a vast and vague category labeled   “Islamism”. In this gigantic pot, the moderates of Tunisia’s Ennhadha, Malaysia’s Abim, and reformists of Iran suddenly find themselves thrown alongside the lunatics of Al Qaeda and Isis on the opposite end of the Islamic spectrum. The enormous intellectual and political differences that set them apart no longer matter. Sunnis, Shias, democrats, moderates, Salafis, extremists, and violent anarchists are bundled together and forced into a single monolithic block in a flagrant example of reductionism, oversimplification and colour-blindness.

 Like Many pseudo-liberals, Ross’s discourse is replete with contradictions. While calling for the support of hardened autocrats and ruthless dictators, they still feign an unwavering commitment to “our values” and “democratic pluralist traditions”. Democracy, rights and liberties thus turn into a thin veneer conveniently deployed to disguise the ugliness of egoistic strategies and policies pursued on the ground, a fig leaf behind which narrow myopic self interest hides its nakedness.

Dismissing the Muslim scene as a homogenous entity outside history, these either ignore or willfully turn a blind eye to the intellectual and theological movements and conflicts unfolding there. For alongside thunderous political and military encounters, a more significant, though less visible confrontation is under way on Islam’s battleground. Three divergent strategies of interpretation are actively competing for Muslims’ allegiance.

The first, which traces its origins to the 19th century reform school,  both in its Sunni and Shiite manifestations, sees no contradiction between Islam, democracy, human rights, women’s emancipation, and civil and public liberties. This is the brand of Islam endorsed by the likes of Tunisia’s Ennahdha party, Morocco’s Justice and Development Party and Turkey’s AKP. They are Islamists, but they are also democrats. Islam is their frame of reference, the same function performed by Christianity in the case of the Christian democrats and socialism for the Social democrats.   

 Against this competes an Islam espoused by autocracies and Gulf sheikhdoms, with their official clergy, government preachers, and ruthless religious police, tasked with legitimizing the status quo, authoritarianism and repression in the name of religion and the protection of public mores. Their religion is a state ideology at the service of despotic rulers. This would appear to be the brand of Islam which friends of the Arab world’s autocrats and dictators, such as Ross, favour and would like to see the American administration support.

 Sharing much with this form of Islam, particularly its orthodoxy, literalism and absolutism, proponents of the third interpretation endorse a different type of politics, however. They are Wahhabi anarchists. Their most vocal representatives are Al Qaeda and Isis, who are determined to propel the Muslim world into senseless and endless wars with infidels, both within and without. Like “autocratic Islam”, this is virulently opposed to democracy, human rights, and individual freedoms and openly hostile to democratic Islam.

This is the current intellectual map of the Muslim world. The American administration needs to ponder which direction it would rather the region take. It must decide which Islam it wants: a peaceful, democratic Islam, crucial to any pursuit of real long term stability, or the anarchical and destructive Islam of al-Qaida and Isis, with its roots in the absolutism of Saudi Wahhabism.

At the apex of the neo con project, Condoleezza Rice had admitted that “For six decades…, a basic bargain defined the United States‘ engagement in the broader Middle East: we supported authoritarian regimes, and they supported our shared interest in regional stability” confessing that “this old bargain had produced false stability”. It is astonishing that over a decade later, after two American military defeats and consecutive hasty retreats, as well as numerous popular revolts across the region, the American administration is being dragged back to the same disastrous strategy -which Obama had come to power on the pledge of revising and relinquishing.

The first wave of the “Arab Spring” may have receded under the crushing weight of “our” Gulf allies’ conspiracies to destroy political life -with petro-dollars and manufactured anarchy- wherever an Arab will to change has registered itself. But the demands at its core show no sign of ebbing away. Ross’s friends, who danced and cheered when Egypt descended into the bloody abyss of military coups, may succeed in delaying change. But that would only be for a while. They and their patrons in Washington and Europe may soon realize that the Arab masses’ demands for self-determination through democratic constitutions, freely elected parliaments and representative accountable governments may prove too difficult to bury, for the simple reason that they are genuine and entirely legitimate.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/soumaya-ghannoushi/dennis-rosss-middle-east_b_5939564.html

 

 

 

Sep 262011
 

Protesters-carry-an-injur-007

 

Had the army not pulled the rug from under Mubarak’s feet, siding with protesters in Tahrir Square, the story of Egypt’s revolution might have resembled those of Syria, Yemen and even Libya, more closely. A bitter confrontation would have cost hundreds, if not thousands, of lives, significantly delaying the old president’s fall. The chant that reverberated around Egypt’s squares in the early post-Mubarak days, as euphoric Egyptians embraced soldiers, was “The people and the army are one hand”. This was not only the people’s revolution, but the army’s too. But it is now clear that the army does not perceive itself as a partner in the revolution, but as its representative and guardian: the sole bearer of its legitimacy. Continue reading »

Sep 062011
 

Saudi-border-guards-007

 

After six months of defiant resistance, fiery speeches, chilling threats and blood-curdling brutality, Gaddafi has finally fallen on his sword. His collapse, however, is far from the end of the story. Instead, it heralds the start of a more complicated chapter in his country’s history. As tanks surround Gaddafi’s last outposts in Sirte, the cold war over the country’s future gathers pace. The common enemy has been forced out of the scene, and now the vast differences between those he had brought together return to occupy the centre stage. Continue reading »

Jun 082011
 

Little did Riyadh know that the most severe strategic blow to its regional influence would come not from Tehran, or Tehran’s agents in Baghdad – but Cairo, its closest Arab friend. The ousting of Mubarak did not only mean the loss of a strong ally, but the collapse of the old balance of power. The region could no longer be divided on a Riyadh-Cairo v Tehran-Damascus axis. Revolutions have struck in both camps: in “moderate” Egypt and Tunisia, as in “hardline” Damascus and Tripoli. The principal challenge for the Saudi regime is no longer the influence of Syria, Iran or Hezbollah, but the contagion of revolutions. Continue reading »

May 262011
 

The first wave of Arab revolutions is entering its second phase: dismantling the structures of political despotism, and embarking on the arduous journey towards genuine change and democratisation. The US, at first confused by the loss of key allies, is now determined to dictate the course and outcome of this ongoing revolution. Continue reading »